Connecting the Dots

The Future of 5G Networks Is Software

5G is Software cover

The much-anticipated promise of 5G and discussions of its key public policy implications are almost impossible to miss today. Fully realized, the next generation of mobile technologies will lead to much faster data speeds than today’s 3G and 4G offerings for businesses and consumers, enabling new economic opportunities as 5G is applied throughout the world.

And while almost everyone can agree that 5G will make significant changes to the landscape of wireless communications, one question tends to get lost in those discussions: What exactly is it about 5G technology that makes it so groundbreaking?

The answer is simple: Software and cloud technologies are integral to 5G’s most transformative capabilities, and software innovations potentially hold the keys to addressing crucial policy issues.

As wireless carriers and network operators ramp up deployment, 5G is having its moment in the policy spotlight. Governments, tech industry stakeholders, and consumers have grasped that our global telecommunications infrastructure is on the cusp of an unprecedented overhaul with the arrival of next-generation wireless networks.

5G has become a focal point for renewed debate across a diverse range of policy areas—from national security and international relations to more domestic concerns like rural access to broadband, the digital divide, and 5G’s potential impact on the economy and jobs. the BSA Foundation’s new report, “5G Is Software,” details the vital role that software technologies will play in 5G networks and the future of wireless communications. Traditionally, the networking and telecommunications sectors have been thought of as primarily the domains of hardware developers. New advances to virtualize network functions in both the core network and radio access network (RAN) using cloud-native, software-based architectures means software plays a more significant role in this space than ever before.

Here’s a preview of some of the findings from our report:

  • 5G will be so much more than just faster internet speeds for our smartphones. In addition to forecasted higher peak data rates 10 times faster than today’s 4G networks, 5G will significantly reduce end-to-end latency to as low as 1 millisecond, enable “smart cities” and the burgeoning Internet of Things, make networks more energy efficient, and boost the network’s overall reliability and resiliency.
  • The 5G core network will be cloud-native and software-based. Network functions that were previously dependent on physical hardware components can be offloaded entirely to the cloud and orchestrated in a virtual environment through intelligent software tools. Breakthroughs in technologies like edge computing and network slicing will allow networks to maximize performance while improving the agility, scalability, and resiliency of network systems.
  • Robust software security and strong encryption must be a priority for 5G stakeholders from end-to-end as millions of new connected devices, sensors, and radio equipment make up the wireless ecosystem.
  • Demand for software skills and STEM workers will continue to accelerate in the 5G era and beyond. More than 14 million US jobs result from today’s software economy, and much of that growth is happening in states outside traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley. Establishing a STEM pipeline to fill thousands of jobs building out 5G and pioneering new applications will put the United States in a strong position as the race for telecom talent heats up.
  • Federal legislators must realign US spectrum strategy for the 5G reality by continuing to engage with the FCC, NTIA, and the Department of Defense to optimize our finite resources.
  • Developing 5G networks as open, interoperable, standards-based systems will promote innovation and allow for a more competitive hardware and software marketplace as 5G network operators invest in new infrastructure.

While there is certainly no shortage of ideas or enthusiasm for what 5G may bring, we are still in just the early phases of the 5G lifecycle and much work remains to be done. No one has yet developed the killer 5G app that will result in the “Oh, that’s what 5G is for” moment. However, even in this preliminary period before its potential is realized, this much is clear: Software technologies will be integral to 5G and the wireless industry from here on out.

To read the full report and follow’s work on 5G, please click here.

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Jake MorabitoJake Morabito
Program Coordinator,

Jake Morabito serves as Program Coordinator at the BSA Foundation. In this capacity, he provides research, analysis, and project management support for the Foundation’s key organizational initiatives and events.

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